This took me a little bit to get into. It's a middle grade adventure story, which I seem to (unintentionally) be reading a lot of recently.
It's very cleverly and imaginatively set in an alterna-Earth, where things took a turn for the weird in the 19th century. Darwin didn't just publish a theory of evolution in this timeline - he also discovered DNA and learned how to splice creatures together. In "Darwinist" countries like England, machines have been largely replaced with intricate gene-spliced creatures. The giant airship the Leviathan, for instance, is a whale. It's a whale ship. A skywhale. A skywhaleship. Crazy, hunh? Other countries have gone the more traditional steampunk route, with awesome mech and airships and the like. These are the "Clanker" countries.
In this timeline, World War I still breaks out and it still seems to be fought between the same countries. There's a new divide this time: like the Catholic v. Protestant battles of yore, this one's a fight between the Darwinists (the Allies) and the Clankers (the Central Powers).
The book follows Prince Aleksander, possible heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, whose parents' assassination is the spark that ignited the war (making Aleksander's parents Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife
in our timeline). That makes Alex a Clanker. The book also follows Deryn Sharp, a Scottish girl who disguises herself as a boy to join the British airservice. So, she's a Darwinist. Both ultimately end up on the British airwhaleship the Leviathan (but not until pretty late in the book).
I will say that I found Alex's storyline much more interesting than Deryn's, mostly because I don't give a whit about what it's like to be in the British airservice, not even when it's on a giant airwhaleship. Alex, on the other hand, was running away from the people who killed his parents as well as dealing with their loss and the sudden responsibility it thrusts upon him.
The book reminded me a lot of The Floating Islands
, except I didn't like it as much. The Floating Islands
hooked me from the beginning and packed a bigger emotional punch, while Leviathan
took me a while to get into. By the end, though, I was enjoying it and am looking forward to the next one.
This book does have some really amazing illustrations going for it. I think they were kind of key - it's really hard to actually visualize the Darwinist and Clanker creations without the drawings. Plus, the map of Europe inside the front cover? Genius.